Guus Hiddink: the man whose incredible record trumps Michels, Cruyff and Van Gaal

Guus Hiddink: the man whose incredible record trumps Michels, Cruyff and Van Gaal

The Dutch have a long-standing love affair with football. Glancing through the annals of footballing history, it is impossible to avoid moments of Dutch majesty. Dennis Bergkamp’s impudent turn and finish for Arsenal against Newcastle, as well as the class of his effort at France 98 against Argentina. Marco van Basten’s sublime volley in the final of Euro 88 against the Soviet Union. The Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax and Netherlands of the 1970s. Football in the Netherlands is associated with class and elegance. 

Even their coaches are revered. Rinus Michels is given credit for pioneering the Totaalvoetbal style and helping changes the fortunes of Ajax, winning three consecutive European Cups. Cruyff, following in his mentor’s footsteps, furthered the concept of Totaalvoetbal by leading Barcelona to their first European Cup success in 1992. Louis van Gaal took a young, talented Ajax to an unbeaten season in both the Eredivisie and the Champions League, and has managed some of Europe’s powerhouses in Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. 

Ajax are the club most synonymous with Dutch football. Providing football with countless icons and helping to forge the shape of the modern game, it is easy to see why Dutch success is immortalised through Ajax. But despite the footballing pedigree born in the halls of the Amsterdam club, the most successful coach in Dutch football plied his trade for Ajax’s biggest rivals, PSV Eindhoven.

Leading PSV to only the third European treble, and wrongly considered by some fans as an international journeyman, owing to his six spells in charge of various nations and struggles at many European clubs in recent years, Guus Hiddink has forged his own path into Dutch legacy. 

Hiddink has managed some of the most storied clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, Valencia, Chelsea and Fenerbahҫe, but his two separate spells in charge of PSV were the undoubted highlight of his club career. Across the eight seasons in which he managed the Boeren, Hiddink achieved more success than any of the storied coaches that went before. Six Eredivisie titles and four KNVB Bekers are the most attained by any coach in the Netherlands, and, although not a record, his European Cup triumph of 1988 cemented PSV’s place on the wider scale.

As a player, Hiddink’s career was unremarkable but lengthy, spanning from 1967 to 1982 for a small selection of Dutch teams and two spells in America. The club to which he became most affiliated with as a player was De Graafschap, based in the city of Doetinchem, who were playing in the second tier of Dutch football. Whilst there, Hiddink and his teammates earned themselves promotion into the Eredivisie and midfielder was starting to enjoy a growing reputation within the game. Spells at PSV, NEC, the Washington Diplomats and San Jose Earthquakes also interceded his career, but his true success would come when directing from the touchline. 

After his retirement in 1982, Hiddink had begun to forge his managerial legacy in Eindhoven, becoming assistant manager of PSV in 1983. It was a role that would ultimately lead to unparalleled success. With PSV trailing Ajax by three points with 10 games remaining, the board decided to make a change in manager, with the defending champions replacing Hans Kraay with Hiddink. It was a move that would produce instantaneous results.

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Hiddink’s arrival sparked PSV into a higher gear in the league as his side, boasting Eric Gerets, Ronald Koeman and Ruud Gullit, overtook Ajax and won the title by six points. Even with the departure to AC Milan of star player Gullit for a then world-record fee of £6m, Hiddink was about to lead PSV into the greatest season of their history. 

As defending Dutch champions, PSV entered the 1987/88 season fighting for trophies on three fronts. PSV began the league campaign in outstanding fashion, winning their first 17 matches of the season. Impressive victories over Utrecht (9-0), Dordrecht (7-0) and Den Bosch (6-1) were mixed in with victories over the other Dutch powerhouses in Ajax (4-2) and Feyenoord (3-1). These results were part of a 22-match winning streak in the Eredivisie, dating back to the final five matches of the season prior. PSV’s run was the ninth longest run in European domestic history, an incredible result for any team, especially one challenged by Cruyff’s Ajax, which possessed the talents of Danny Blind, Frank Rijkaard, Aron Winter and Dennis Bergkamp. 

At the turn of the year, PSV had yet to drop a single point in the league and results were similarly impressive in the other two competitions. Two easy victories in the KNVB Beker – 6-0 away at amateur side De Treffers and 3-1 away at MVV – secured a straightforward passage into the round of 16.

For most teams, the European Cup is the most coveted trophy they’ll ever compete in. PSV began their campaign with a strong home victory over Turkish champions Galatasaray, winning 3-0 thanks to goals from Hans Gillhaus, Ronald Koeman and Adick Koot. The return leg in Istanbul provided more issues for the Dutch champions, trailing 2-0 at half-time to goals by Tanju Çolak and Ivan Nielsen’s own goal. The momentum appeared to be with the Turkish side, but the second half saw an assured defensive performance from PSV. No further goals were scored and PSV had secured their passage into the second round. It was not the last time their defensive efforts would come to their rescue.

The next round brought a match-up with Austrian side Rapid Wien. It was a tie that was more comfortable for Hiddink, with a solid 2-1 victory secured in the Austrian capital thanks to goals from Berry van Aerle and Gillhaus followed up by a 2-0 win in Eindhoven secured by the outstanding Søren Lerby and Gillhaus again.

Their progression into the quarter-finals brought a clash with French champions Bordeaux. By this stage of the season, 23 games across three separate competitions had brought 22 victories – momentum of the highest order.

The seemingly unstoppable PSV from the first half of the season inevitably slowed after the turn of the year but they still progressed closer to glory. More victories over the weaker teams in their league followed and a 1-0 victory in Amsterdam over Ajax had PSV racing towards a third successive Dutch title, despite draws to Twente, Utrecht, Fortuna Sittard and Den Haag. A nervy 1-0 extra time victory over Den Bosch in the KNVB Beker kept the treble hopes alive, while a hard-earned 1-1 draw on the French coast against Bordeaux, with Wim Kieft’s effort cancelling out José Touré’s excellent free-kick, gave the Dutch champions the edge in Europe. 

In the return leg at the Philips SportparkPSV held on valiantly against the French champions, securing a 0-0 draw that meant that they progressed to the semi-finals on the away goals rule. The result was further proof of the growing strength of a team led by Gerets and Koeman, and contributed to the rising star that Hiddink was becoming for his tactical prowess.

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The same result was achieved against the historic kings of Europe, Real Madrid, in the semi-finals, with Edward Linskens first-leg goal enough to secure a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu, while a battling 0-0 stalemate at home saw PSV reach their first European final. Hiddink’s side had failed to concede a single goal at home in their run but would be facing a tough Benfica side in the final. 

A first league defeat away at Feyenoord came in the league, but PSV couldn’t be stopped and finished the Eredivisie season with 27 from 34, with just two defeats. Topping the table nine points clear of Ajax was a significant achievement in itself, but ending with 117 goals scored – an average of 3.4 per game – and just 28 conceded was a remarkable feat, one highlighting the strength of the team that Hiddink had built and which justified his decision to allow Gullit to leave before the season began.

The final of the KNVB Beker was held at the Gemeentelijk Sportpark Tilburg with PSV facing a Roda side appearing in just their second final. Roda took an early lead through experienced striker Huub Smeets and held that advantage until captain Gerets fired an equaliser. Raymond Smeets restored Roda’s lead with just under 30 minutes remaining, and despite having Eugéne Hanssen sent off, Koeman’s missed penalty meant that Roda held a 2-1 lead with just five minutes remaining. Gerets scored again to send the game to extra-time and Lerby fired home the decisive goal to give PSV their second trophy of the season.

Domestic trophies for PSV were expected, so the fans were eagerly anticipating the European Cup final that could crown the perfect season. Injury to Benfica captain Diamantino prior to the game meant that the match would be a cagey affair, with starring performances from defenders Koeman and Benfica’s Carlos Mozer. As PSV defender Berry van Aerle remembers: “It wasn’t a particularly good match, with both teams very cautious, but it was exciting until the end and a tense penalty shoot-out.”

PSV would triumph 6-5 on penalties, with no players missing, and won their first European competition. It was the finishing touches to a remarkable treble, matching the achievements of the 1967 Celtic and 1972 Ajax sides. For Hiddink, it was the glory that cemented his status as one of the hottest managerial prospects in Europe, representing a rapid rise for the former assistant. A mere 14 months as manager of PSV had brought two league titles, a KNVB Beker and a European Cup, and it set him on his way to being the most successful manager in Dutch football.

Whilst the incredible success of the 1987/88 season was never likely to be replicated by PSV, Hiddink and his renowned scout Piet de Visser would be about to oversee the import of one of the greatest players to grace the European game. The 1988 Olympic football tournament may have been won by the Soviet Union, but the true star was a 22-year-old Brazilian striker playing for Vasco da Gama by the name of Romário. Seven goals in six matches had proven enough to impress Hiddink and PSV, and the mercurial Brazilian was soon heading to Eindhoven where he would prove an unstoppable force. 

Domestic success, whilst not as comfortable as the treble season, was achieved by Hiddink’s team. In the Eredivisie they finished three points clear of Ajax. Although the Amsterdammers had closed the gap, Romário’s 19-goal debut season helped propel Hiddink to a third successive title, and PSV’s fourth.

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In the KNVB Beker, PSV breezed to the final, where Groningen awaited. Unlike the previous year, Hiddink’s side had a much easier time with Romário, Kieft and a brace from Juul Ellerman firing the champions to a 4-1 victory. It was the second domestic double completed by the Rood-witten and represented the sixth trophy won by Hiddink in just two and a bit seasons. 

However, continental competition proved a tougher task for the Dutch side. Entering the European Cup in the second round as defending champions, PSV comfortably dispatched Porto 5-2 on aggregate before falling at the quarter-final stage to Real Madrid. The Intercontinental Cup also proved just out of Hiddink’s reach, losing on penalties after a 2-2 draw with a Santiago Ostolaza-inspired Nacional. Both competitions failed to add to Hiddink’s growing medal collection, but they still served to grow his reputation as a promising manager and one who was a force to be reckoned with. 

Prior to the 1989/90 season, which would mark the end of Hiddink’s first spell in charge, Koeman was sold to Barcelona. His departure had a similar feel to that of Gullit, but this time, PSV were unable to adequately replace their talisman. Whilst Romário continued to flourish, PSV took a backwards step and failed to recapture their scintillating form of previous seasons. Although a third consecutive KNVB Beker would be won thanks to Stan Valckx’s penalty against Vitesse, it would be the only addition to the trophy room. 

By this point, the early signs of a promising new Ajax crop were beginning to emerge under the tutelage of Van Gaal, with Danny Blind, Bergkamp and the de Boer brothers starring. As a result, the capital side pipped PSV to the Eredivisie by a solitary point. The European Cup presented a similar frustration as, despite strong victories over Luzern and Steaua Bucharest, Hiddink’s side fell at the quarter-final stage once again, losing 3-1 to Bayern Munich. 

The season marked the closing of Hiddink’s spell at PSV, with the Dutchman ending his time with seven trophies in just 153 matches, winning 104 of them. Hiddink had become the most sought-after European manager and would take charge of Fenerbahҫe, Valencia, Real Madrid and Real Betis throughout the 1990s, albeit with limited success.

Whilst his club career never reached the dizzying heights of his PSV days, Hiddink garnered success on the international scene, first with his native Netherlands and then taking South Korea to the semi-finals of their home World Cup in 2002. It was the most successful role Hiddink had undertaken since leaving Eindhoven. Hiddink then returned to his spiritual home.

He inherited a strong side containing the talents of Mark van Bommel, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Mateja Kežman, and with the additions of Arjen Robben and South Korean Park Ji-sung, PSV were once again a team heading towards success. Managing in the Eredivisie for the first time since 1990, Hiddink immediately rediscovered the Midas touch, guiding PSV to yet another Dutch title, his fourth. 

The Eredivisie was a close run competition, with PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord all finishing within just four points of each other. Ultimately, a 0-0 draw away to Groningen on the final day ensured that PSV won the league ahead of their Amsterdam rivals by a single point, with a solid defensive performance the perfect encapsulation of a side that only conceded 20 goals in a 34-game league campaign. PSV were not a defensive side, however. With Kežman up front and Robben and Park on the wings, PSV registered 87 goals in the league, with the Serbian striker firing 35 of them. 

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In the cup competition, PSV had mixed fortunes but failed to add to their league success. A semi-final defeat to eventual champions Utrecht was a disappointment, while their poor showing in the Champions League was a let down for the fans. Although it was never likely that PSV would win the trophy again, with the tournament being restructured during the 1990s to favour the biggest clubs, the fans still expected some level of competitiveness.

The reality was a solitary victory in their six matches, finishing bottom of their group and not even qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Hiddink’s return had seen both the club and himself taste victory again, but there was still the sense that the side still had improvements to make. 

Unfortunately for them, the following season would see a domestic regression. Despite retaining the key players from their title-winning side, Hiddink and PSV would experience their first trophyless season – not counting the Johan Cruyff Shield – of their six-season relationship. They would surrender the Eredivisie title to Ajax by six points, lose in the KNVB quarter-finals to NAC Breda, and exit Europe despite some promising signs.

Drawn in a tough group containing Monaco and Deportivo, PSV started poorly, losing 2-1 at home to Monaco and 2-0 away at Deportivo. Back to back victories over AEK Athens gave the Dutch side hope, but due to their 1-1 draw in Monaco, a final game 3-2 victory over Deportivo wasn’t enough to progress, finishing third thanks to their head-to-head against the Spaniards.

In the UEFA Cup, Hiddink’s team comfortably dispatched Italian side Perugia and Auxerre of France before falling to Bobby Robson’s Newcastle in the quarter-finals. It was a season of disappointment and failed expectations, but the signs of growth were evident.

Heading into 2004/05, Chelsea were under the new management of José Mourinho and one season into the Roman Abramovich era. As part of their rearrangement of the backroom staff, they hired Piet de Visser, the long-time PSV scout. De Visser’s move to London would prove to be key for both clubs, with his involvement crucial in overseeing the transfers of Robben and Kežman. Despite these star names leaving, PSV would experience a strong rebounding season, surpassing the expectations of even their most ardent supporters.

The league was the first priority and it was returned to Eindhoven, comfortably winning by 10 points. Hiddink again proved his managerial prowess, masterminding a team to a league campaign consisting of just a single defeat and an impressive balance of 89 goals for and a miserly 18 conceded. He completed the third domestic double of his career with a strong 4-0 victory over Willem II in the KNVB final, the 10th trophy that Hiddink had won with PSV, overtaking Rinus Michels’ record of nine with Ajax.

Of all of the outstanding coaches to have graced the Dutch game throughout history, none have been more successful than Hiddink at PSV, cementing his status as one of the greatest managers to have graced the game, even if he is often overlooked in terms of recognition. 

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Despite losing the leading league goalscorer over the two previous seasons and some of Europe’s brightest talents in Kežman and Robben, Hiddink had weaved his magic once more, getting the very best out of his squad and integrating the new signings of Phillip Cocu, Jefferson Farfán and DeMarcus Beasley and on-loan Brazilian defender Alex seamlessly. 

In Europe, PSV finally managed to progress past the group stage of the Champions League, finishing second behind Arsenal. A confident 3-0 aggregate victory over Monaco was followed by a nervy penalty victory after a 2-2 draw against French powerhouse Lyon, setting-up a semi-final tie against a star-studded AC Milan side. Goals from Andriy Shevchenko and Jon Dahl Tomasson secured a 2-0 first leg victory for Milan and gave PSV a seemingly impossible task heading back to the Netherlands.

Hiddink, however, was the master of getting the very best out of his players and goals from Park and Cocu had PSV just minutes away from extra-time, until a 91st minute away goal by Massimo Ambrosini restored Milan’s lead. Cocu’s second gave PSV a lifeline, but there wasn’t enough time for the Dutch champions to grab a winner, knocked out by the dreaded away goals rule. 

Despite going out of the competition, PSV had earned the respect of the footballing world. Hiddink had once more proven his worth when managing the Boeren, taking a team way beyond its collective ability through a mixture of solid defending, incisive attacking play and an incredible team ethic. 

In what would prove to be the final season of his PSV career, Hiddink again had to deal with the loss of key players, with Park heading to Manchester United and Van Bommel leaving for Barcelona. The adversity would yet again be overcome, with Hiddink’s side winning the Eredivisie by 10 points for a second season running, the sixth Dutch title of his career. It was another season of defensive solidity, only conceding 23 goals and ensuring that Hiddink’s legacy as a counter to the usual free-flowing nature of Dutch football was secured.

PSV again made it through their Champions League group but were easily dismantled by a Lyon side in the midst of their own glorious dynasty. The 5-0 aggregate defeat was a shock for the Dutch fans and represented a disappointment having reached the semi-finals the previous season. Hiddink would leave to manage Russia after the season had comcluded but he had secured his legacy as PSV’s greatest manager and the most successful in Dutch footballing history. 

Often seen as a manager who favours defensive solidity above all, Hiddink oversaw some of the most attacking football in PSV history. Working with forwards of the quality of Romário, Vennegoor of Hesselink, Kežman and Robben certainly makes that job easier, but Hiddink allowed them to flourish while never abandoning a sense of defensive nous.

Though Hiddink will primarily be remembered as an international manager for many and may never be mentioned in the same breath as compatriots Michels, Cruyff and Van Gaal, he is the manager who won the most in Dutch football and succeeded in creating teams that continually defied the odds and lived long in the memories of those fortunate enough to watch them. He may not have defined a style of play beloved by the majority of fans, but Hiddink deserves his place in the annals of footballing history as one of the greatest managers to ever grace the dugout.

By Michael Gallwey @michael95angelo

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